Reaching Out to One Another While Reaching Out to Hall

Saturday, November 15, 2008

While Jim Zorn was sitting in his office at Redskins Park last week, asking himself if the front office should try to sign cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the same topic was under discussion across the hall. In the personnel department, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato and his staff were pulling their reports on Hall, and having the first in a web of conversations that resulted in the team landing the former Virginia Tech star.

The process would involve numerous chats among coaches, exchanges between Cerrato and Zorn, Cerrato and Hall's agent, between coaches and players and even between Hall, 24, and Redskins players.

Team officials decided the potential rewards of Hall's man coverage and big-play skills outweighed any concerns about him becoming a disruptive force in what has been a close and relaxed locker room. Hall's behavioral issues that led Oakland and Atlanta to part with him were considered, with coaches and management ultimately convinced he could help the team.

"We hope that DeAngelo works out," Zorn said. "But is it a risk? Absolutely. It's absolutely a risk."

Though Cerrato has final say over personnel , Zorn said the coaching staff played a significant role in the move. All were not thrilled Hall's arrival led to the release of reserve corner and special teams standout Leigh Torrence (special teams coach Danny Smith in particular, Zorn said), but Zorn said there was a consensus among coaches, executives and scouts to sign the free agent to a one-year deal worth about $500,000.

"If I was dead against it, there was no way it could have happened," Zorn said matter-of-factly. "Vinny wouldn't put that on me, 'You have to take him.' And I wouldn't do that to [defensive coordinator] Greg [Blache]: 'You have to take him.'

"There is definitely a working relationship with everybody. That makes it good, and it should be that way in a midseason [acquisition], and probably even that way in every situation, even in the draft.

"But somebody eventually has to go, 'We all agree.' And when [the move] happens, we all do agree. It doesn't matter who had a little bit of a doubt; there is no doubt anymore. It's that type of thing. Now we've got to really make it work for all involved."

When Hall went on waivers Nov. 5, Zorn said he initially worried about placing such a strong personality among a proud group of backs that had become the strength of the defense. Zorn wondered why a struggling team like Oakland would part so quickly with a player they gave up so much -- second- and a fifth-round picks, plus a seven-year deal worth a maximum of $70 million -- to get.

"I was thinking that we should check into" getting Hall, Zorn said. "But I don't have enough pride in my need to be in charge to go, 'We're getting him, I don't care what you guys think, we're getting him.' So it has to fit with Greg's plan and the guy we had to deal with, too, was Danny Smith. I took a special teams guy [Torrence] from him, and that was hard."

Zorn was on the phone with Blache, who left Redskins Park late last week for a hunting trip, as well as cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray, wanting to make sure they were comfortable with the move. He was speaking to Cerrato regularly, getting details on what other teams were in the hunt, what kind of contract Hall would likely seek on the open market.

"Some of the conversations don't even have to last that long," Zorn said. "Just, 'Should we pursue it?' "

Gray liked Hall's 20 career interceptions -- his ability to create the kind of game-changing takeaways the defense has lacked, and his knack for lengthy returns. "He can intercept the ball and go 75 yards," Gray said, "and when you can do that on defense, that kind of kills the offense." Gray didn't even bother reviewing recent film of Hall in Oakland, he said. He was on board. Blache was, too.

The coaches also reached out to linebacker London Fletcher and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, the defensive captains. They would be most directly affected if Hall misbehaved on or off the field. Both were intrigued by Hall's talent, expressing their belief the locker room was strong.

The Redskins were one of the first teams to call Hall's agent, Joel Segal, expressing interest while Hall was on waivers Nov. 5, but like most clubs the Redskins were not inclined to claim him because of his contract. When Hall cleared waivers the next day and became a free agent, the push was on. The Redskins, Patriots, Ravens and Eagles were among the strongest suitors.

"It kind of hit us between the eyes," Blache said of the team's enthusiasm that the two-time Pro Bowler was available again.

Hall, a Virginia native, had made it clear to Segal that joining a team near his home was a priority. He wanted to play in a secondary that utilizes man coverage over zone, as the Redskins do, and was hoping to find a organization with which he could settle and perhaps sign a new contract -- the Redskins' history of bestowing record-breaking deals never goes unnoticed.

"For me it came down to what team that I felt I had a future with," Hall said. "I don't want to necessarily go hit the free agent market again when the season is over."

Zorn said: "If we would have inquired and he would have said, 'I'm really not interested in going to the Redskins,' or, we didn't offer the kind of contract or the money or the thought process didn't fit with him, we'd be off it right away. We'd just move on."

Instead, the Redskins were making their pitch Nov. 7 as he neared a decision. Cerrato reaffirmed Hall's ties to this area. Zorn explained to Hall his direction and aspirations for the Redskins. Gray explained the nuances of the defense and how Hall could fit in. Blache assured him that his past wouldn't be held against him.

"When he was trying to make a decision I told him he had an opportunity to come here with a totally clean slate," Blache said.

Fletcher phoned Hall with assurance that he would be welcome, explaining the team's camaraderieand the bonds forged by the death of safety Sean Taylor last season.

"I think that we have a great locker room and guys love coming to work and playing with each other," Fletcher said. "Everybody has their own individual personality, and you've got to accept that and, at the same time, he has to fit in to what we are doing. We also have to embrace, understand and reach out to him."

Hall agreed to terms with the Redskins on Nov. 7, flew into Dulles that night and spent Saturday taking a physical and visiting Redskins Park. When players reconvened Monday after their bye week for a morning meeting, Zorn expressed the same sentiment as Fletcher. He asked that every player make a point of introducing himself to Hall, to "pull him into the group," show him the way things are done here.

If it doesn't work out, he and the Redskins can always part this winter. But Zorn is hoping this process, and a collective gamble, pays off for years.

"I'm hoping we improved our team, and I'm hoping he'll have the opportunity to be here for a long while," Zorn said. "Not just seven games."

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